South African Military History Society

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The meeting was opened with a special thank-you to David Scholtz and his brother for their sponsorship of the visit on 29 November to Fort Schanskop in Pretoria. It was fascinating with a very successful round table discussion, held at a wonderfully carved table in the fort itself, of the Anglo-Boer War.

A Russian historian and journalist, Boris Gorelik, who has published articles on various aspects of Russian participation in the Anglo-Boer War, has offered his translation of the Diary of Yevgeny Augustus, who served with the Krugersdorp Commando at the Battle of the Thukela Heights, and Spionkop, among other places. The material was offered to the Journal, but by its nature is too long to be included as an article. However, the editors of the Journal feel that this account is of genuine historical interest. Therefore it has been planned, with the support of the MHS Committee, to publish the journal of Yevgeny Augustus as an illustrated monograph with a colour cover in the style of the journal, A5 size, and about 50 pages long. It would be offered for sale at a cost of R50.

However, before embarking on publication, your committee has decided to test the ground as to how many people would be interested in obtaining a copy. Those readers of the newsletter who might be interested in buying a copy / copies are asked to e-mail our Secretary/Treasurer Joan Marsh at with the Subject heading "yes to monograph".

The curtain-raiser lecture of the evening was given by Dirk Uys who studied Engineering at the University of Pretoria but is fascinated by all things military. His talk Wehrmacht Kanister - The Jerrycan Story was inspired when he was cutting up a jerrycan to make a postbox.

When the German Army began its rearmament program in 1933, they realized that they needed a strong and reusable fuel container for their new highly mobile mechanized warfare method. The development of the Wehrmacht Kanister was highly secret with the first prototypes being manufactured in 1936. Production started in 1937 and large numbers of cans were stockpiled by 1939, ready for use in earnest. The British used "Jerry" as a nickname for the Germans so the "Wehrmacht Kanister" became known as the "Jerrycan".

The Jerrycan has some unique design features. It is manufacture from two half shells pressed from plate and joined by a single weld with cross-shaped [X] stiffening ribs pressed into the sides. The weld is recessed to prevent damage. The can is flat-sided and rectangular for ease of stacking. All the corners are rounded to prevent their being damaged or causing injury when being handled. The entire Jerrycan, including the handles, is made from plate material. The three-bar handle design forms an inner handle that is normally used to carry a filled can. If two empty cans are placed side by side they can be picked up by a single hand using the outer handles. The outer handles are also used when the can is passed from one person to another. Using the outer handles, two people can carry a filled Jerrycan over a long distance between them. The rounded handle is ergonomically designed with a comfortable grip diameter. The can itself has a capacity of 20 litres and a weight of 20kg when filled. The inside is covered with a red hydrocarbon-proof paint. An air chamber at the top accommodates the expansion of the fuel. A Jerrycan filled with petrol will float when dropped into water. The cam-type cap does not require any tools in order to be opened or closed. This cap stays open so both hands can be used to hold the can during pouring. An air vent breather-tube is fitted leading from the cap to the air cavity for smooth pouring. The short spout does not require the use of a funnel.

Markings were also stamped on the sides of the can: K - Kraftstoff [fuel] F - Feuergefahrlich [flammable] plus the manufacturer's logo and date of manufacture. As water is essential to both men and machines, a variant of the Wehrmacht Kanister was produced in 1941 specifically for water. These cans were exactly the same but were marked W - Wasser [water] with a broad white cross painted on each side. Dirk also showed us a smaller version - 5 litres - introduced more recently by the French to carry wine [V] or oil [H] and marked accordingly. This caused much hilarity!

Despite being exposed to incredibly harsh wartime conditions the Jerrycans performed exceptionally well on all fronts and climatic conditions. They were superior to the British cans which were oblong and cumbersome (and referred to as flimsies!) In fact, the Wehrmacht Kanister is still very common today, in both civilian and military use, which illustrates that it is one of the best known items of military equipment ever made. The lecture was illustrated by photographs and a display of actual Jerrycans including the French ones for wine and oil.

The main lecture was given by Peter James-Smith who has lectured to us before and is a member of the MHS committee. He was educated at London University where he studied Theology. His lecture was 1898 - Before the Anglo-Boer War and After - which was well illustrated with photos and paintings of the time.

Peter commenced by reading from GK Chesterton's poem: Songs of Education: Geography

1898, the year after the Queen-Empress's Diamond Jubilee, was a watershed year. The year when the British Empire and its army was at the height of its power and prestige both internationally and in the eyes of the British public. And then came 1899 ...

The British Empire really began with the foundation of Newfoundland in August 1583 by Charter from Elizabeth I. This was prompted by the regular presence of Spanish and Basque fishermen on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland plus expeditions by Portuguese explorers to try to find a north-west passage to the East Indies. The Empire was predominantly for financial gain with strategic protection and it was a ramshackle affair based on divide and rule and sheer bluff.

British Colonial governors had no bodyguards and walked through the streets unaccompanied. How? Because the British were socially secure, having had their equivalent of the French Revolution in the 17th century with the Commonwealth and the execution of Charles I. The Stuart Restoration of 1660 did not restore the old form of monarchy - it was now subordinate to Parliament.

In 1660, Cromwell's army had consisted of 40 000 men but the Government was terrified of a standing army and having to pay for it. So by 1663, the army comprised 3 574 men in regiments and 4 878 in garrisons - considered to be the instruments of the King - whereas the French army in 1659 consisted of 148 regiments. Britain always relied on mercenaries, mainly from German states - viz Marlborough and Wellington. After the Napoleonic Wars the army decayed and soldiers weren't popular with the public. Then two rude awakenings occurred - the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and the Crimean War. Afterwards there were reforms in the late 1860's and the Cardwell reforms of the 1870's. Cardwell was a brilliant man but his reforms were only partially accepted. Why? In the way stood Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, (1819-1904) who was Commander in Chief of the Army 1856-9.

However, three good men were on the rise from among the many Anglo-Irish who joined the Army - these men were often the sons of soldiers but not very rich and thus ambitious. They often joined the Indian Army where the pay was better, expenses lower and opportunities for advancement greater. The first two, Roberts and Wolseley were both in the Crimea and at the Relief of Lucknow in India. Roberts went on to make his name in the 2nd Afghan War and finally became Commander in Chief in India 1885. Wolseley, who was opposed to the Duke of Cambridge and keen on modernization, was the hero of the Ashanti Campaign 1873 -74 and the Egyptian campaign against Arabi Pasha in 1882. He finally replaced Cambridge in 1895 but by then was too old and lacked the energy and intellect that he had before.

Kitchener, the youngest of the three, began his career as an engineer but he was ambitious and ruthless. His victory at Omdurman with 8 200 British and 17 600 Egyptian men, 44 guns, 20 Maxims supported by 10 steamers against the Mahdist Dervish army of around 50 000 men (gun strength uncertain) commanded by the Khalifa Abdullah Al-Taishi was hailed in Victorian England. The cavalry charge by the totally untried 21st Lancers became as iconic as the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. Ironically, prior to the battle of Omdurman, other cavalry regiments jeered that their regimental motto was "Thou shalt not kill"!

In 1899, the British Army's strength was only 249 466 with 90 000 reserves by contrast with the German army's 550 000, the French 500 000 and the Russian over 1 million. The British army had no general staff and was the last army still to advance in line - a tactic doomed to failure against the modern weapons that favoured defence. Added to this, the private soldiers were poorly paid and of a low level of fitness. The equipment was poor - for example 200 000 rifles with a sighting to the right.

Then came "Black Week" in the Anglo-Boer War which shocked Britain and its establishment to the core. There was an international outburst of anti-British feeling and suddenly the British realized how much they were hated. They employed their usual answer to a military crisis - send for a hero. Roberts and Kitchener arrived. Roberts quickly captured the Boer Capitals and secured the mines in Johannesburg but failed to understand that the war wasn't over. Kitchener successfully expanded Roberts' scorched-earth policy and this attrition wore down the Boer forces and forced them to surrender.

By this time Queen Victoria and Rhodes were dead and Salisbury had retired. Things had certainly changed. How long would the Empire last? The white colonies were wanting more self-government and across the colour line there were the first stirrings of nationalism. Everyone realised that they had to be more self-sufficient. By 1905, Richard Haldane became Secretary of State for War and combined with Douglas Haig forced through training manuals and a uniform administrative system. Finally, an Imperial General Staff established a common system of defence for the Empire and was itself drawn from across the Empire.

The lecture was concluded with the reading of the poem Recessional by Rudyard Kipling.

Pat Henning

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